The sun was warm upon her face where Lalaith sat beside Legolas upon a stone bench, in a bright, lush courtyard garden beneath the room where Frodo lay sleeping. The garden was enclosed upon all sides by arching stone pillars, and flanked all about, by green trees and vibrant, flowering vines, bearing blossoms of red and gold. Through arching porticos, the garden continued, a set of stone steps leading up to another enclosed courtyard where the green of the garden continued. Their view here, where they were gathered, gaze through a portico lined with carven pillars, over a stone balustrade, and out over the distant mountains to the east, the sky there, clear now, the haze of grey, sinister clouds not longer scraping at the blue of the sky. Her heart was light and free of care as she rested her head upon Legolas’ shoulder, watching the antics of Merry and Pippin in the center of the grassy sward, who had made a game of tossing a handful of three small stones back and forth at each other, laughing as they struggled to keep their stones all aloft at once. Often, one or more of the small stones would drop from their quick hands to the ground. But just as quickly, they would snatch them up, and begin the game again.
Gimli and Aragorn stood nearby, flanking the bench upon which Lalaith sat with Legolas, while Sam, weary but smiling, sat upon a stone bench alone, across the courtyard from her. He smiled at the cries of the other Hobbits, but he did not move, and his face, fresh and rosy in spite of the cuts and scrapes, was pensive. And it would be, Lalaith knew, until Frodo awoke in the room above them, reached by the several stone steps where Gandalf waited for the young Hobbit to awaken.
“Ack! Pippin!” Merry wailed as Pippin distracted as he shot a proud grin toward Lalaith, missed a stone Merry had tossed, struggled to catch it, and in so doing, slapped it away with his snatching palm, and it flitted through the air, landing with a clatter upon the stone tiles at Lalaith’s feet.
The gown of soft silver she wore rustled about her as leaned slightly away from Legolas and plucked the stone from the ground, smiling as she studied the smooth round rock against the ivory flesh of her palm, her smooth hands that emerged from the full sleeves of her gown. Her hair, unbound save for a few twined braids, slipped over her shoulder, glimmering in the sunlight that spilled unhindered, over the city, kissing her skin with its soft warmth.
Legolas’ hand, once curled about her shoulders, had slipped down her back as she leaned away, and now, he contented himself with straying his fingertips lightly across her back, sending sparks trailing through her flesh from where he touched. She could feel his eyes upon her, the heat of his gaze and she smiled as she straightened and turned to him. And for a long moment, as she drank in the vision of him, she found herself unable to take her eyes off him, his eyes dancing as their gazes met, his hair smooth and golden beneath the sun, the soft silver tunic he wore-, so regal he was, so fair-, and he loved her.
At his shoulder, Gimli ducked his head and grinned broadly at Lalaith’s suddenly awed expression, though to his credit he said nothing as Legolas smiled more deeply, as affected by her beauty, she could see, as she was, by his.
“Oi, Lalaith!” Pippin cried, and only then, did her senses register that there were others about.
“Here,” she gasped swiftly, flushing at the soft chuckles between Gimli and Aragorn.
She held the stone out toward the youngest Hobbit who grinned, and came forward to claim it, his hand catching the stone from her proffered palm. He moved to turn back to Merry, but a bout of bright laughter from above froze Pippin in his tracks, and his eyes darted up the steps to the doorway through which Gandalf’s laughter, mingled with Frodo’s clear bright laugh, emerged.
“Frodo’s awake!” Pippin gasped, and with that, he and Merry darted away, scrambling up the steps, and throwing open the wooden door as Lalaith and Legolas rose to their feet. Legolas caught Lalaith’s hand swiftly in his own as Gimli hurried away, scrambling up the stone steps behind the Hobbits.
“Frodo!” Merry’s voice called brightly as they stood, poised in the doorway. Lalaith smiled fleetingly as she, with Legolas a step behind her, slowly mounted the steps, Aragorn moving patiently a step behind Legolas. And then the Hobbits pounced through, their laughter mingling with Frodo’s before Gimli reached the doorway, and stepped through, crowing in laughter as Frodo called out his name in greeting.
The last step was beneath her feet, the doorway before her, and as Lalaith moved softly through into the quiet air of the chamber, she found Gandalf’s eyes, Gimli beside him, and Merry and Pippin pouncing about on the bed beside Frodo who sat with pillows again his back in the midst of them. His eyes met hers then, his bright blue eyes, moving between her and Legolas who came a step behind, and his gaze grew mute and reverent, no words coming forth from his lips, though his tender eyes spoke volumes.
With Legolas beside her, Lalaith moved to Gimli’s shoulder, smiling over Frodo as his eyes once again strayed toward the doorway.
“Aragorn,” Frodo called out as Isildur’s heir grinned at Frodo’s greeting and moved to stand beside Legolas at the foot of the Hobbit’s bed.
Behind her, upon the steps, she heard the soft scrape of bare feet, and as Sam paused in the doorway, Lalaith could have wept at the change that came over Frodo’s countenance as he looked upon his comrade, his faithful friend. Without Sam, she realized, a warm heaviness settling upon her heart, Frodo would not have triumphed. Their quest would have failed entirely, but for Sam’s faithfulness.
Turning, she offered Sam a smile where he stood in the doorway, and beckoned to him.
And to this, Sam grinned shyly, boyishly, and came forward, moving to stand between her and Gimli, blushing softly as her hand came to rest upon his shoulder.
“The Fellowship of the Ring,” Gandalf mumbled softly, looking over them, his eyes twinkling in his aged, gentle face.
Merry and Pippin had grown still, kneeling now upon the bed with Frodo between them as Gandalf shifted his weight, and smiled softly, sadly. “Had we dared hope when we set out, that this would be where we would find ourselves once again, our quest fulfilled? Lessened by one of our number, though-,”
Gandalf drew in a low sigh, and Lalaith’s eyes fell as Legolas’ arm twined gently about her waist.
“Though I do not doubt,” Gandalf paused, and Lalaith lifted her eyes, meeting his wise gentle gaze, “that even now, Boromir is with us.”
A peaceful silence fell over the room, and Lalaith shrank closer to Legolas’ side. A soft breeze stirred then, cool and caressing as it came in through the open window, wafting about Lalaith. A scent caught in her nostrils then, and she knew it. The warm, musky scent she had breathed in when Boromir had come to her in her grief, and held her close in Lórien, and again when he had declared his love for her, and kissed her sweetly, briefly, upon Amon Hen before the uruk-hai had come.
Lalaith-, a voice seemed to whisper upon the wind, a distant breath of a voice, and a soft brush of air smoothed across her shoulder almost as if a hand rested there, for the briefest moment.
“He loved Gondor,” Lalaith murmured softly.
“And you,” Legolas added with a soft twist of a smile as she turned her head to glance up at him, smiling.
“And both are saved,” Aragorn finished quietly before he lowered his eyes in quiet thought.
“Indeed,” Gandalf agreed in his warm, gravelly voice. “And he shares in our joy.”
Gandalf sighed low, and fell silent then as the soft breeze brushed again past Lalaith, warm fingers of air moving through her hair, before it faded beyond the window.
The morning was bright, and the banners of the city caught in the playful wind snapping and clapping as it brushed over the city. All was brighter than before, all was vibrant, and full of hope. Even the birds flitting about in the trees planted here and there, were more lively and bright in their high trilling songs.
Lalaith sighed, contented as she moved along a fair street upon the second level of the city, her fingers woven through Legolas’ as Gimli stalked beside them, stroking his beard and staring about him.
What a strange group the three of them made, she thought to herself, casting a glance at Legolas, and seeing by his quiet smirk, that he was thinking her thoughts as well. Two fair Elves, bright and tall, walking hand in hand, and their small, dark, blustering companion who stomped along beside them. More than one curious glance and humored smirk had been cast their way as the three of them strolled together about the streets.
“There is some good stone-work here,” Gimli muttered, nudging Lalaith in the arm as he gestured toward the white, towering walls beside them. “But also some that is less good, and the streets could be better contrived.”
“Indeed, Gimli?” she murmured, bemused, trading a glance again with Legolas, who smirked, and shook his head as he glanced toward the ground, speaking not at all.
“Mmgh,” Gimli returned importantly, and continued to stalk importantly along. “After Aragorn comes into his own, I shall offer him the service of stonewrights of the Mountain, and we will make this a town to be proud of.”
“After the King Elessar’s coronation, tomorrow?” Lalaith asked, humor in her tone.
“Augh,” Gimli grunted, waving a gloved hand dismissively, though a playful spark lit his eyes. He laughed merrily, spatting her arm gently with the back of his hand, his eyes dancing with teasing delight. “After the crown is on his head, and all that tedious nonsense of standing about stiff as a tree, and feigning to be interested in it all is done away with!”
“Gimli!” Lalaith gasped, feigning shock.
“Ah, no, I meant none of that,” he laughed, his voice choking slightly. “After the darkness these good folk have passed through, it will be a bright moment to build from.”
“My lady!” a boy’s voice, breathless, and anxious drew near from behind them, and Lalaith turned, recognizing Bergil’s voice as the lad came darting near, gulping in great draughts of air from his swift sprint up the hill. “My lady, you must come quickly to the gate!”
“What is it?” she queried.
“Come, come!” Bergil ordered impatiently, and turned quickly about, beckoning for them to follow as he hurried back the way he had come. Lalaith traded a glance with Legolas before she dropped his hand and snatched up her skirts to follow behind the hasty lad. Her mind cast about what might have caused this great excitement in the lad as Legolas broke into a slow trot beside her as Gimli thumped noisily behind, wondering loudly at the fuss.
“There are fair folk come to Minas Tirith!” Bergil gulped as he led them down the sloping streets. “And Prince Imrahil bid me come find you, for they are asking for you!”
“From where do they hail?” Legolas queried, his grin growing wide as Lalaith and he traded a bright glance.
“They say they have come from far Rivendell,” Bergil continued, his voice coming out in a breathless gasp as he led them on down an angled street as it twined about, sloping downward, toward the lowest level. “A tall lord with dark hair led them.”
“And what was the name that he gave?” Lalaith called out, struggling to keep pace with the little mortal whose speed was ever quickening.
“He did not say, not to me,” Bergil continued over his shoulder as he scurried on, through the wide curving street nearer toward the gate that was not yet visible beyond the high bright houses about them. “But there was another golden haired lord beside him at the head of their company, and two fair ladies with them.”
Lalaith shot another hopeful glanced toward Legolas who returned it just as the gate appeared around a corner, the sun, bright in the sky, spilling unhindered down upon the courtyard before the open gate.
She drew to a sudden stop then, her heart bursting in a thrill of happiness as she beheld the company of her kin, regal and golden in the sunlight about them, many mounted upon fair horses, others standing, their eyes lifted in patient curiosity at the sight of the great white city towering above them.
The leader of their company the dark haired lord Bergil had spoke of, stood beside Glorfindel, his back turned toward Lalaith as the two Elven lords conversed with Prince Imrahil.
Glorfindel, bright and tall, saw Lalaith first, his eye lighting in silent greeting. And Miriel, whose auburn hair catching the rays of the sun as she sat upon a silver coated mount, and Ithilwen of Mirkwood who stood at the horse’s head stroking its neck, both brightened at the sight of her and waved in greeting which she merrily returned before she lifted her voice, and called out, “Elladan!”
Elladan spun at her voice, his eyes alighting in a shock of sudden joy. And with a few words of leave to Imrahil and Glorfindel, Elladan laughed aloud, and sprang across the courtyard toward her, his robes flying behind him. He caught her up in his strong arms as he reached her where she stood beside Legolas, and swung her off her feet, spinning her about. Their joyful laughter, choked with tears, echoed off the white stones of the city before he set her down, and clasped her shoulders, pushing her back to gaze upon her face.
“We are well met, little cousin!” he laughed, his eyes dancing as he did. “It is good to see you unharmed-,” he glanced from her face toward Legolas, his merry countenance taking on a look of deep gratitude. “And in the company of those who love you.”
“How fare you, my friend?” Legolas asked, stepping forward now, grinning.
“Very well,” Elladan returned, turning briefly from Lalaith to clasp Legolas’ arm in a companionable greeting. “And it is good to see you also unscathed, Legolas. I do not doubt that you have both passed through much, both of you, and that the tale of it is long, and ends in great triumph.”
His words were interrupted by a loud harrumph from behind them, and Elladan smirked softly as he glanced past Lalaith’s shoulder toward Gimli who stood back near the corner of the wall, rocking upon his heels, waiting with a lowered glance to be acknowledged.
“And many faithful friends have added to that triumphant tale.” Elladan murmured graciously.
“Mmph,” Gimli returned with a quick lift of his chin, to which Elladan merely grinned again, and offered the Dwarf a brief nod of his head.
“Come then, my cousin!” Lalaith murmured, reaching for and catching his hands in her own, and raising her voice so that it carried over the group of Elves. “Surely you are all weary from your journey. Let us go find Aragorn. He will be overjoyed to see you. And Lord Faramir, the Steward of the city is a goodly Man and a generous host. He would be pleased to see that rooms are provided for all of you, and food made ready.”
“That would please us all,” Elladan chuckled warmly, squeezing her hands, his eyes dancing merrily before he glanced once again at Legolas.
“We have brought with us an old comrade of yours, Legolas,” he grinned. “I hoped that we might find you, for he has missed you sorely, these past months.”
And even as he spoke, as if summoned by a silent voice, a white coated horse clattered forth from among the mounts of the other Elves, fully saddled and bridled, though he bore no rider. His silver tail flicked about in curious wonder, and Lalaith could see gladness shining in his eyes as he gazed upon his long absent master.
“Rana!” Legolas gasped brightly, and strode forward, touching a hand to the horse’s nose, who snuffed and snorted in pleasure as he nudged Legolas’ shoulder affectionately, then turned his large brown eyes upon Lalaith who lingered behind. Rana’s warm, mute glance spoke plainly enough that he waited for her portion of affection as well, and Lalaith smiled.
“Dear Rana,” she murmured, gliding forward, and placing a hand upon the horse’s smooth neck. “How we have both missed you.”
Rana whickered in pleasure, and turned his head to snuffled gently against her shoulder.
“Come,” Legolas murmured lightheartedly in her ear before he swung easily into Rana’s saddle, then bent down, offering her his hand. “We shall ride him together as we so often did in past days.”
“Arod’s going to be jealous,” Gimli crowed from behind them as Lalaith gladly offered her hand to Legolas, and leapt nimbly up behind him upon the horse’s strong back, her skirts gathered beneath her, and her arms clasping tight about his lean waist. To this, Legolas glanced over his shoulder, meeting Lalaith’s eyes as they traded a humored glance.
“Come, Lord Gimli,” Elladan grinned, clapping a hand upon Gimli’s shoulder who glanced dubiously at the Elf’s hand upon his shoulder, then raised his eyes to Elladan’s appraisingly. “If I might be permitted to have your guidance through this fair city, it would be an honor. For any who befriend and protect Lalaith, have my friendship as well.”
Gimli blinked, taken aback for a moment, and for a short space of time, spoke not at all. But as a smile, unfeigned, touched Elladan’s face, Gimli grinned broadly, and clapped a leather gloved hand upon Elladan’s arm. “Augh, I’ve already made friends with two Elves. Shouldn’t hurt to make friends with another one. Come on.”
The night was dark with soft shadows of silver and purple, the sky awash with diamond stars as Lalaith sat upon a carved stone bench set in a hollowed nook within the enclosed garden beneath the white walls of the Houses of Healing. The air was cool with the scent of growing things here in this small oasis amid the city of white stone and Lalaith sighed, her heart at ease as she drew in a small sip of wassail before setting her cup down upon a jutting ledge of the wall beside her. Through an arched portico, and over a stone wall, she could see the far line of mountains shadowed against the night sky in the east.
Beyond the ragged line of mountains, no red glow lit the night, no fume of smoke choked the sky. And Lalaith smiled at the sight of it. She could hear Legolas’ voice, as well as Elladan’s and Glorfindel’s beyond another arching passage and up a short flight of stone steps, and she hugged her arms tightly to herself, feeling a swell of sweet desire within her as she listened to the warm tones of his voice as he laughed merrily at something Elladan had said.
“This is a peaceful place,” Miriel’s voice echoed in the quiet, and Lalaith turned her eyes to gaze at the maiden seated at the other end of the stone bench, leaning contentedly back against the wall behind them. Miriel gazed out into the night sky. The light of the lamp hanging from a wrought iron hook above their heads flitted about in the shadows, catching in the shining, rust colored locks of her hair.
“Peaceful, yes,” Lalaith agreed with a sigh. “It is very peaceful. Now.”
“Yet only a short time ago, it was not,” Ithilwen murmured softly where she stood nearby, her back against a near pillar. She drew a thoughtful sip from her own cup, then stepped near, setting it upon the ledge of the wall beside Lalaith’s. “I could see it, as we came up through the levels. There are too many widows in this city. Too many maidens who will never know a man’s love. Much sorrow lingers here, yet hope returns, and for that one small blessing, I am glad for these people.”
“You have always been gentle hearted, Ithilwen,” Lalaith breathed quietly, and reached out, taking the maiden’s small hand. “It does not surprise me that you would sense their pain.”
Ithilwen shuddered softly at this, lowered herself to the stone seat, her skirts rustling as she settled between the other two maidens, gazing out the pillared archway and into the night.
“I sense it,” Ithilwen murmured softly, her eyes turned down with a brief look of quiet shame. “But I do not understand it in my own self, for I have Glorfindel. Often, I feel selfish in my own happiness. I have the love and devotion of one who adores me, though I know not why. Such adoration so many women long for, pray for, and are forever denied-,”
“We are all three of us, very blessed with goodly men,” Miriel whispered, touching a gentle hand to Ithilwen’s back, and leaning near as she kissed her friend upon the cheek. Ithilwen smiled.
Companionable silence reigned between the three Elven maidens as they listened quietly to the brotherly laughter between the Elven men above. The light chatter of the Hobbits had stilled, for they had gone off to bed some time before, as Gimli and Gandalf also had.
“Aragorn is not with them,” Lalaith heard herself murmur softly after a few moments. “He was glad enough to see Elladan and Lord Glorfindel again, but he has been pensive all evening. And though he spoke briefly of Uncle Elrond, and of Elrohir, he said nothing of Arwen. And he has been gone, since the feast ended.”
“Ai, my lady, you do not know?” Miriel murmured, sitting up quickly, and gazing over at her with a worried look in her eye.
“Our lord, Elrond, wished Lord Aragorn to free our lady of her vow to him, so that she might sail west with her kin,” Ithilwen returned, laying a gentle hand upon Lalaith’s shoulder. “And though grieved, he agreed out of love for her, that she might live for always, as she was born to do. He spoke to her, and set her free the morning you departed. In truth, she was to have sailed into the West before the spring came, but-,”
Ithilwen paused at the look of concern within Lalaith’s eyes, and traded a pitying look with Miriel.
“Lord Aragorn spoke naught of this to you, did he?” Miriel queried softly.
“He said nothing-,” Lalaith whispered, shaking her head, recalling all that the Fellowship had passed through. Aragorn had never spoken at all of his freeing Arwen from her oath. What quiet sorrow he must have endured all this while, knowing such an act of caring for her, would *** him to a life of loneliness!
“And she has sailed then?” Lalaith murmured in a hollow voice, her heart suddenly grown heavy within her. “That is why she did not come? What of Elrohir? He has gone as well?”
“No, no,” Ithilwen cooed softly as she lay a hand upon Lalaith’s arm. “She did in truth leave for the Havens. But-,” Ithilwen and Miriel again traded a glance, their eyes weighted with mixed emotions. “She turned back. She followed her heart’s will, and returned to Imladris, only to fall beneath the power of the growing shadow-,”
“She has since recovered, my lady,” Miriel murmured swiftly, allaying the growing look of fear in Lalaith’s eyes. “After the passing of Sauron, her strength returned.”
“But she has made the choice of Lúthien,” Ithilwen whispered softly, her voice falling as a stone from her lips.
“And she is coming,” Miriel finished, a tone of resignation in her voice. “She and her father and others of our people journeyed first to the Golden Wood, that they might come together with the kin of her mother and with Lord Elrohir who has been there, these past weeks.”
Lalaith blinked, numbed by the news, and dropped her eyes as questions roiled in her mind.
In that moment, a scuffing of boots, as of someone running, drew near, and a shadow appeared, bursting through the arched portico, and skidding swiftly to a stop.
“Lady Lalaith,” the young armored guard murmured, offering Lalaith a quick bow, and glancing nervously between the other Elven maidens.
“Welcome, sir,” Lalaith offered, a smile drawing up the corners of her lips. “You are one of the night sentinels of the gate?”
“Yes, my lady,” he returned, his beardless cheeks flushing beneath his tipped, silver helmet. “There are more of your kin, come to Minas Tirith. Lady Galadriel of Lothlórien, and Celeborn her lord have come, as well as King Thranduil of the Greenwood, and his Queen, Aseaiel. Elrond, Lord of Rivendell, your kinsman, and a host of others, have come as well, my lady. And he has asked for you.”
“Uncle Elrond!” Lalaith gasped rising swiftly to her feet as her heart leapt within her. “And Arwen is with him! Ai, I have missed them!”
She began to turn toward the steps up which she could hear the men’s voices, when another man’s voice merry, and fraught with delight, called teasingly to her in the Elven tongue, “And? Is there any other whom you have missed, these long months, my little cousin, or have you forgotten me entirely?”
The voice near and bright, and spoken in her own tongue, made her spin wildly back, forgetting decorum as she turned, and sprang wildly toward the Elf man who drew near beneath the shadows of the arching pillars, squealing his name as she fairly pounced upon him.
“Elrohir! You could not wait for me to come down to you?”
“Indeed not, Lalaith!” he returned, laughing aloud as he lifted her easily off her feet, then set her down again, smiling broadly upon her as he caught her hands in his.
Lalaith blinked at him through her happy tears, clasping his strong hands in trembling fingers, wondering at the light in his eyes, the glow upon his face.
“You are even now, the little sprite I have ever known, Lalaith. All your great battles and fame have not changed you. Not a wit.” He grinned, laughing through the tears that touched his eyes as he pressed a kiss to her brow. “And I am glad of it.”
Lalaith laughed softly in return, touching a gentle hand to his face. “But you have changed, cousin. A little,” she remarked. “There is a glow about you-,”
Elrohir smiled broadly at this. “You shall understand well enough, in a moment when you meet her.”
“Her-?” Lalaith queried as Elrohir turned toward a slight figure adorned in a gown of silver and white, gliding beneath the arching pillars.
“This is Calassë,” he murmured reverently as the maiden, slight and fair, drew forward, her eyes lowered, and a flush darkening her pale cheeks.
Lalaith’s lips curled up in a pert smile at the softened expression of unveiled adoration that drew itself across her cousin’s face as he caught the maiden’s slender hand within his own.
“You are Lalaith of Imladris?” the maiden Calassë queried softly, lifting her eyes briefly, before her glance fell again.
Calassë sighed low. “I am glad to meet you. Long have I wished to ask your forgiveness-,”
“Forgiveness?” Lalaith wondered. “What ill could you have done to me, my friend?”
“Ai,” Elrohir murmured softly. “It is a long and trying tale. One she told me, upon our journey from the Golden Wood when I spoke of you, to her-,” he sighed softly.
“Think no more on it, dear Calassë,” Lalaith assured her, catching the maiden’s free hand in her own. “For one who is soon to be my kinswoman-,” She glanced teasingly to Elrohir who grinned broadly, and ducked his head. “I gladly forgive you, for-,” Lalaith laughed softly, waving a hand dismissively. “For whatever it is, that has weighed upon your mind. Do not let it trouble you, any longer.”
Calassë lifted her head at these words, and the look of quiet gratitude that lit her face fairly melted Lalaith’s heart.
“My lord, Elrohir!” Miriel’s voice called from behind as she and Ithilwen drew forward to offer their greetings.
“Miriel! Ithilwen!” Elrohir greeted the maidens enthusiastically, bowing cordially to them. “We are well met! It is good to see you.”
“Who is your fair friend, my lord?” Miriel queried.
“This is Calassë, a ward of my grandparents,” he offered, his eyes turning upon her with a look of undisguised admiration, to which the other maidens smiled.
“A star shines upon the hour of our meeting,” Ithilwen’s soft voice was soft with welcome as she greeted Calassë, and took her hand in her own. “I do not think we have ever met, before, though we could be sisters, as alike as we appear. From where do you hail, my lady?”
Calassë blushed lightly at this, and traded a glance with Elrohir. He smiled, and nodded gently, to which she swallowed softly, and in a quiet, timid voice, murmured, “Gondolin.”
The answer sent a strange shiver of premonition through her, and Ithilwen dropped the maiden’s hand and stepped back a pace, feeling the blood rush from her face.
“Gondolin?” Lalaith and Miriel breathed in unison, to which Elrohir nodded swiftly.
“It is a long tale to tell,” he said with a sigh. “But one worth the telling, when the time is right. Calassë is indeed a maiden of Gondolin. And for these past weeks that I have known her, she has wished to find Lord Glorfindel. She remembers some, though not all of her-,” he swallowed quietly. “Her past life, and little of Gondolin does she remember, aside from the name of Lord Glorfindel. I do not doubt but that she will remember all, when she meets him.”
He turned his gaze upon Ithilwen, and the gentleness in the depths of his eyes smote at her heart. “Is your lord nearby, Lady Ithilwen?”
For a moment, Ithilwen did not speak, hearing only her own heart throbbing in her ears as she studied the fair maiden before her. “You are-, you are she,” she breathed heavily. “She of his-, his-,”
She gulped and tried again to speak. “You were-, slain in Gondolin, and are-, reborn, your memories of your past returned now to you?”
Calassë flushed at this, and ducked her head, though Elrohir spoke in her stead. “After a fashion,” he replied.
Ithilwen’s mind reeled, her heart dashing into thobbing splinters within her as she cast her eyes about, seeking some escape. Any escape.
The young mortal soldier, she could see, had stepped away, mounting the steps that led up to the courtyard where the men sat.
Glorfindel, she cried within her as her breath began to come faster, the shards of her heart pulsing in pain within her. He was to have been hers. Hers alone. But-, she shuddered at the thought. From the night she had awoken in his arms in the Hall of Fire, when she had heard him speaking softly in his sleep, Ithilwen had understood that she was not his first love. She was naught but his second choice. As the Lady Indis had been, to Finwë.
What would she have done, Ithilwen pleaded desperately in her mind, the lady, Indis, were Míriel to have indeed returned to life before Finwë’s death, were they three to find themselves suddenly, awkwardly together? Her heart ached at the realization of the answer, and she wished to beat it back, to subject it, and deny it. But she could not. Her love for Glorfindel would not allow it.
She would have loved him enough to set him free. Her fragmented heart wept at the words that breathed through her soul. She would have released him to return to she whom he loved, first.
“Lady Ithilwen?” Elrohir queried, drawing forward, and resting a hand upon her slender shoulder, his words soft, his eyes gentle, as she lifted her gaze to his own, fraught with compassion and concern. “Are you not well?”
“Forgive me, my lord,” she offered, clasping his sturdy wrist where it rested upon her shoulder. She smiled bravely, glancing past his shoulder at the maiden Calassë, then up again, into the soft eyes of Elrond’s noble son. He loved the maiden. That was clear enough to see. And Ithilwen drew in a shuddering breath, a shard of pity driving through her already tormented soul. Hers was not the only heart that would be broken, tonight.
“Forgive me,” she offered again, and with heavy tred, she turned away toward the stone steps where she could hear the young mortal’s voice addressing the men. “I shall go, and bring him to you.”
Glorfindel smiled where he sat, half inclined against a wall where flowering vines clung, swerving up the wall in a lush profusion of open blossoms as he took in the words of the young mortal soldier with a lightened heart.
“My father has arrived?” Elladan asked eagerly, rising to his feet, and snatching up his outer robe where he had hastily flung it upon a stone seat. “And Prince Legolas’ parents as well?”
“They have, my lord,” the young Man returned as Elladan pulled his robe on.
“Then we shall go down, to them,” Elladan grinned merrily. “Lord Glorfindel? Shall you join us?”
Glorfindel rose easily to his feet at the younger lord’s bidding. “Ithilwen will wish to see her father, for I do not doubt he has come as one of King Thranduil’s guard. I would be pleased to-,”
The voice sounding from the steps behind him, was a glad welcome to him, and he turned, drinking in the sight of Ithilwen, her silver skirts caught in one slender hand as she rose with the grace of a water nymph to the crest of the steps. Her golden hair, twined in whorls upon her head caught in the faint dancing of the lamplight, and Glorfindel stood struck with renewed amazement at her fresh beauty.
“May I speak with you, for a brief moment?” Her words were spoken with an quiet timidity which Glorfindel wondered at, yet which he found endearing. The sight of her fair form, her eyes, large and moist with hidden thoughts stirred his blood anew.
“Ai,” Elladan sighed with a smirk, trading a humored glance with Legolas at the sight of Glorfindel’s affected countenance. “Perhaps you will follow in a few moments then, my lord?”
“Perhaps,” he muttered softly, not looking at his friends as Elladan and Legolas turned away, following the Gondorian soldier down the stone steps.
Both Elven men offered a short greeting to Ithilwen as they passed her, but she seemed hardly to notice them. Her gaze was fixed immovably upon Glorfindel as they departed. And as their voices echoed up from below, greeting the other women, and Elrohir, whose voice Glorfindel could hear now, she glided slowly toward him until she stood but a breath away from him. The merry sounds of many feet departing the lower garden came up to him, but Glorfindel hardly noted the sound as he devoured the fair sight of his beloved.
“Ithilwen,” he murmured softly, drinking in the soft fragrance of her, his body tingling with a familiar rush of desire at her nearness. “What did you wish to speak-,”
His words were cut off in a soft grunt of surprise as she moved suddenly into his arms, her mouth capturing his in a bold, yet tender caress. It took him but a moment to overcome his shock at her welcome boldness, and he smiled against her questing mouth as he drew her lithe form against himself, eagerly returning her gentle, incessant kisses.
His hands, caught about her slender waist, slid up her back over the smooth fabric of her gown, slipping into the smooth depths of her hair before he drew back again with a contented sigh, and smiled down into her face, though his smile quickly faded to a look of concern, wondering why her eyes seemed so clouded, and listless.
“Forgive me,” she breathed, drawing herself quickly out of his embrace once again. “Forgive me, Glorfindel for my weakness. I saw you, tall and bright in the lamplight, and-, I could not help myself-, I wished only to share the tenderness between us one last time before-,”
“One last time before we are wed?” he muttered, chuckling softly, reaching after her, and pulling her playfully against himself once again, seeking to bring cheer to her eyes. “But the date agreed upon is weeks away! Have pity upon me! There is nothing scandalous in kissing your betrothed.”
“No, Glorfindel, I beg you!” she hissed, struggling away from him. And startled, he let her go. She stumbled back a pace, and Glorfindel stared in alarm at the ragged agony upon her face.
“Do not cause me any more pain than you must, I beg you,” she whispered softly.
“Ithilwen?” he pleaded, reaching after her, and catching her hand in his, which she permitted him to take, but would not return his warm squeeze. “I could never dream of bringing you pain! What is wrong?”
She sighed brokenly, and murmured softly, “I love you, Glorfindel.”
His heart warmed at her tender words, and he smiled. “That is hardly a fault, and if it is, I am equally guilty. For I love you as well, Ithilwen.”
“Were I to follow my heart,” she whispered softly, dropping her eyes, “I would wish to take you and flee from here, that you might never see her, ever. But-,” she shook her head swiftly. “I cannot do it. Because I love you. Because you loved her. First.”
Glorfindel furrowed his brow and drew in a slow breath. “Ithilwen, I don’t understand-,”
“Come,” she commanded gently. “You shall understand soon enough.” And turning with his hand in hers, she led him away across the green sward of the upper garden, and to the crest of the stone steps.
Her hand was soft within his as she led him down the ledges of carved stone, and as the lower garden came into focus, he saw two figures standing close together beneath the starlight. Elrohir he saw clearly enough. His head was bent low over the maiden whose back was to Glorfindel as she murmured softly, her words bringing a smile of delight to Elrohir’s face. The maiden was slender and lithe, thin braids of golden hair twined back upon her head, as free waves of soft gold tumbled down her narrow back. The object they held between them, Glorfindel could see, was a blossom plucked from the vines trailing up the walls. A golden flower. And as Elrohir lifted the flower, tucking it carefully into the maiden’s hair, his free hand slipped around her slender waist, drawing her against him, and she laughed.
Glorfindel paused at the base of the steps and stiffened at the sound of her laughter, painful, suppressed memories straining suddenly to the surface of his thoughts. Beside him Ithilwen choked softly at his changed expression, and released his hand. He turned to glance at her, his eyes seeking answers to his sudden questions, but the eyes of his beloved were turned down, away from him. He returned his gaze again to the maiden, and drew a step nearer to her.
Lalaith’s heart was light and free of care as she glided down through the starlit streets, her arm linked through Legolas’ as they with Elladan and Miriel followed the lead of the young mortal soldier toward the gate.
After so many months, at last she would see her uncle again, and Arwen. And Legolas’ father and mother, who would soon be her kin, as well as her her kin from the Golden Wood. What a merry time was this! Her joy, she was sure, could not be any fuller.
And then, in a moment, the open courtyard before the gate came into view, and as she scanned the faces of the many Elves gathered there, her breath caught as her gaze alighted upon a face.
Lothriel sat in the midst of a group of Elves from the Golden Wood, a bright smile upon her face as she sat mounted upon the back of a cream white steed, chatting amiably with someone who stood at the horse’s head, an Elf man, tall and broad, whose hand clasped the horse’s reins, but whose face was hidden from view by the creature’s lean, cream colored neck.
“Legolas,” she murmured softly. “It is Lothriel.”
“Ai, Lady Lothriel,” he murmured softly, his voice somber.
“But-,” Lalaith hissed softly, “she-, is clearly not marked with grief. I thought you told me-,”
“Lady Lalaith!” Lothriel called suddenly from the crowd. She glanced down at the Elf with whom she had been talking to, and chirped merrily, “Look! It is Lady Lalaith, and Prince Legolas!”
Her guide turned the horse’s head at this, guiding the gentle creature carefully, with the lady upon its back, through the crowd, and as they came through the edge of the gathering, he turned the head of the horse so that his face, warm and bright was at last in view, smiling in welcome.
Legolas said nothing as his eyes grew wide, his mouth fallen slightly open in speechless shock. But Lalaith gasped aloud in unexpected joy.
“Haldir!” she cried.
Elrohir smiled down upon Calassë where he stood with her beneath the moonlight and the soft hiss of the night wind that brushed over them, thrilling at the merry laugh which fairly danced from her soft lips. That he could make her laugh like this, always!
“It suits you, this golden flower, Calassë,” he murmured softly as his hand lingered against Calassë’s cheek where he had tucked the green stem of the bright golden flower behind the delicate peak of her ear. “It matches your hair, and the brightness of your spirit.”
“Bright because of you, Elrohir,” she murmured quietly. “What you have made me into.”
“I could not make gold out of iron,” he returned with a smile. “Greatness has always been within you, Calassë, and I am blessed to know you. To have you now, as my own, soon to be my bride before the spring has passed into summer.”
Calassë blushed at this, her eyes growing moist with quiet, though undisguised desire and sweet anticipation before a soft scuff of boots upon stone behind her, alerted Elrohir to the presence of another. And he glanced up, swiftly brightening at whom he saw.
“Glorfindel!” Elrohir cried, stepping back from Calassë as he squeezed her hand in a quiet assurance. “At long last, we find you! We are indeed well met!”
Glorfindel grinned at his welcome, striding forward as Calassë turned, and Elrohir proudly gestured to her.
“My lord, may I present, before any more time passes, the fairest maiden ever to grace the shores of these lands, one whom you once knew, Calassë of Gondolin, soon to be my-,” Glorfindel met the eyes of the maiden, and Elrohir broke off abruptly, seeing the sudden change in both their faces. Each turned deathly pale. Calassë opened her mouth as if to speak, though no words came out. She took several steps toward Glorfindel, swaying upon her feet as a slender tree caught in a wind.
“Calassë,” Glorfindel hissed.
“Glorfindel-,” Calassë returned numbly. “My dearest one-, I had forgotten-,” Her voice was but a whisper, but the words she spoke sent shards of wrenching pain suddenly driving as cruelly as a ragged bladed dagger, into Elrohir’s core. But she had called him her dearest!
“You are not a dream, Calassë?” Glorfindel pleaded, his voice growing swiftly ragged. “Not some shadow of my past, come to mock my pain? How did you come to be here, my cherished one? How-?”
Calassë’s knees trembled, her body suddenly weak. Elrohir willed himself to move, but could not. Time seemed suddenly distorted and slowed as Glorfindel came forward a step or two, and hesitated. Then, as her knees buckled, Glorfindel caught her and clutched her to himself, burying his face in her hair and held her with such intensity that his hands turned white and mottled.
Glorfindel’s touch seemed to break a spell and Calassë gasped suddenly, and began to sob wildly against his neck. Elrohir could not see her face, but he could see Glorfindel’s tear streaked one. And it said enough.
All the answers she had sought were clear to him now, Elrohir realized, his core growing hollow, an empty void fraught with pulsing pain as he watched them clinging to one another, both weeping openly now. How could he have missed the signs? No mere friend or mentor Glorfindel had been, but her own lover, lost so long ago, in the fall of Gondolin. Fool he had been, to think otherwise! Glorfindel’s name was all she had spoken until Elrohir’s coming, memories of him lingering ever upon the back of her conscious mind, ever struggling to rise above the half forgotten glimses of her past. And what, Elrohir pleaded silently within himself, but the fresh agony of a lost lover could have driven Glorfindel to such a hopeless battle as that which he fought with the balrog, despairing of his own life, and no longer wishing to live?
“I despaired of ever finding you again,” Glorfindel sobbed unashamedly against her hair, his voice cutting harshly through Elrohir’s tortured musings. “But my thoughts of you never ceased. Ever I prayed for you, though my hope was dead. I have never ceased to love you, Calassë.”
“And ever have I loved you, Glorfindel,” Calassë choked. “Ever has my heart been seeking for you, though I understood not, why.”
The golden flower he had tucked into her hair had been loosened by the force of Glorfindel’s embrace, and the cruel knife blade twisted within Elrohir as he watched the soft flower flutter from her hair, and fall, unnoticed, to the soft grass at her feet.
A soft sob from the shadowed edge of the wall caused Elrohir to lift his heavy head, and the shreds of his heart twisted all the more within him at the sight of Ithilwen, collapsed upon the ground beside a carven stone bench, her fair face buried in her arms upon the stone seat, her golden hair falling in disarray about her as she sobbed out the ragged pain of her own broken heart.
Her quiet weeping alerted Glorfindel and Calassë as well. And shuddering, they drew apart as Glorfindel turned toward Ithilwen, catching Calassë’s hand tightly within his own.
“Ithilwen-,” Glorfindel breathed, “my sweetest Ithilwen, please-,” His ragged voice was fraught with tenderness and concern as he started toward the weeping maiden with Calassë at his side, clutching tightly to his arm.
But what could Glorfindel do, now? Elrohir pleaded silently within his own tormented thoughts. What could any of them do? What would happen to the fair, gentle maiden, Ithilwen? What would happen to him? What would happen to all of them? How could so cruel a trick as this be remedied? They all would suffer.
Tears, not only for himself but for all of them, ran down his face. He could let Calassë go for her own happiness. Surely he could. But that would not save any of them the pain they all would feel. And with these desolate thoughts, a groan of despair wrenched from his throat, and he spun away, striding blindly out of the garden and into the silver star washed streets of the white city, caring not where he went, wishing only to escape the inescapable hopelessness that tore his soul afresh with every step that carried him further away from Calassë; she whom he loved. And would love forever.